Cross Country: Cats improve racing strategy, chase top-ranked teams at Notre Dame

Ellie Friedmann, Reporter

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The Wildcats’ 18th-place finish out of 21 teams Friday at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Cross Country Invitational may seem like a letdown, but in a field of some of the top teams in the country, the Cats performed markedly better than they have all season.

Senior Elena Barham paced Northwestern in the race, finishing the 5-kilometer course in 17 minutes, 35.8 seconds. Junior Jena Pianin, who led the Cats in her first two races this season, clocked 17:44.5, and Rachel Weathered rounded out the top three for NU in 17:49.8.

Though as a team they finished at the back of the pack, the Cats are confident they are improving their racing strategy. Not only did they post solid times for the 5K distance, but also they beat Big Ten competitor Iowa.

Barham said coach ‘A Havahla Haynes has emphasized that her athletes need to feed off of each other during races. Although many look at cross country on an individual basis, Haynes is looking for the Cats’ success to come by working together as a unit.

“Running at rhythm is beneficial,” Haynes said. “Our goal of the last few performances has been: If we’re able to train together, we’re able to race together.”

Barham said the Cats have fallen short in the past few races because they haven’t all been “on” on the same day. For success as a team, five runners need to run a solid race and score low points. If two or three top runners have an “off” day, the team suffers.

At this point in the season, with several weeks until the Big Ten Championships, Barham said she isn’t worried about the strength of her team. She is confident that with two more races to work out the kinks before Big Tens, every team member will be ready to be onon race day. If training and preparation continue to go well and the team can stay healthy, Barham said this could be one of its best seasons in years.

“This is the best we’ve been since my freshman year,” Barham said. “The last two years after that, we were really inconsistent due to injury. As a group now, everyone who came into the season healthy is pretty much still healthy.”

In addition to physical health, the team has a positive attitude about racing more competitively and tuning up for the Big Ten Championships, which they will host in Chicago.

“In terms of a group dynamic, I feel like we all really want it, are really committed, and I see a lot of positive changes happening this year,” Barham said. “Coach Hav has rocked and she’s really good about communicating to you what the purpose of you training is, so that makes it really easy to trust it.”

The University of New Mexico, where Haynes coached before coming to NU, placed first Friday, with its top five runners all finishing in the top 12 out of 171 runners. Though the Cats aren’t remotely competitive with New Mexico, the top-ranked team in the nation, Haynes has a long-term vision and every day works to get NU on that level down the road.

As she did in building the cross country powerhouse at New Mexico, Haynes said what she will work on most to strengthen NU’s program is consistency.

“Right now we’re just focusing on consistency across the board in our life,” Haynes said. “Not just about running, but about consistency in the weight room, in the dining hall and in conversations with one another.”